Tourists start returning to Portland, but business travel remains moderate

With only a handful of its rooms reserved at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, managers decided to contract with Multnomah County to convert the Jupiter Hotel into a temporary homeless shelter. Its new sister hotel across the street, the Jupiter Next, was nearly empty. Even in summer, he had trouble filling even a third of his rooms.

A year later, the 67-room Jupiter Next is packed on weekends and reserves those rooms several weeks in advance. The Southeast Portland hotel is even charging a little more for those nights than it did before the pandemic.

“The climb was pretty slow,” said Nick Pearson, hotel general manager. “June is really where we saw a big change. Now the whole market is at a point where the weekends are filling up.

Tourism to Portland and the United States fell last year, with future travelers instead staying isolated at home. Portland’s average hotel occupancy rate fell below 37% in 2020, according to hotel market research firm STR, from nearly 74% the year before.

But tourism has slowly picked up in Portland over the past two months as restrictions on coronaviruses eased and more people were vaccinated.

Portland hotels recorded an average occupancy of over 56% in June, which remains down 30 percentage points from June 2019, but is by far the highest monthly occupancy rate since the start of the pandemic. The occupancy rate exceeds 70% on weekends, but remains in decline during the week.

Even more tourists are choosing to stay in vacation rentals through sites like Airbnb. These properties had an average occupancy rate of over 82% in June, exceeding the average occupancy by approximately 76% in June 2019. Data for the full month of July is not yet available.

Many hotels and short-term rentals that closed last year have since reopened, but the number of occupancies can be inflated as some remain closed. The Jupiter hotel, which still houses homeless people, will not reopen to the public until next summer.

Still, traders say they have seen a noticeable recovery in business.

Susan Moray began offering summer bookings for the two vacation rental units she owns at Ladd’s Addition in February after renting the units to long-term tenants last year as tourism plummeted.

She said bookings were slow at first, but as vaccines became widespread in March and April, interest quickly increased. The properties are now booked until September.

“I didn’t expect things to come back like this,” Moray said. “A lot of people who have rentals in this area are reserved. I have the impression that it is back to normal. “

Lasse Christiansen, who rents two Southeast Division Street homes on Airbnb, said he has also noticed a significant increase in demand.

Last year, he said many of the people who stayed at his properties were Portlanders looking for a couples getaway. Now, he said he mostly receives visitors on road trips from Seattle or California, or even long road trips from the East Coast. With the resurgence in demand, he was able to charge more per night than he did before the pandemic.

“People always want to come here,” Christiansen said. “We have natural beauty which is a great force in attracting people, as well as breweries and restaurants – and now restaurants are coming back. And the particular neighborhood I’m in on Division has a lot to offer people from out of town.

On average, Portland’s short-term rentals are more expensive now than before the pandemic. Steve Halasz, research director for the city’s tourism bureau, Travel Portland, said hotel room prices in the city also rebounded faster than expected, with average nightly rates of $ 152 in late July, against $ 175 in July 2019.

Weekly data from STR shows occupancy rates remained stable in July even as the delta variant led to a worrying increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“Tourism is coming back,” said Halasz. “People are confident enough to travel properly and have been for the past few months. The state has done a great job with immunization rates. Right now people feel confident enough to travel, and I think we see that with the numbers. “

Even so, the resumption of COVID-19 cases could threaten the return. The number of new cases reported in Oregon nearly doubled this week from the previous week, and forecasts predict the state has yet to peak at its current wave.

And as tourists return, many still avoid downtown Portland hotels.

Even though average occupancy rates at hotels in east Portland, home to smaller hotels and extended-stay properties, exceeded pre-pandemic levels this year, occupancy rates in downtown areas continued to lag behind.

About 56% of downtown hotel rooms were occupied on average in June, up from about 87% before the pandemic. (The recent rebound, however, is still a big improvement from last June, when less than one in five hotel rooms were booked.)

Visitors were slow to return to downtown hotels in other markets as well. Average occupancy rates in June were 64% in downtown Denver, 53% in downtown Seattle and 30% in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia.

Shannon Overholser, spokesperson for Provenance Hotels, which operates six properties in downtown Portland, said weekend hotel occupancy rates exceeded 70%, a number boosted by vacationers. One of the company’s six downtown Portland hotels, the Dossier, remains closed due to understaffing, but Overholser said the company hopes to reopen it in September.

However, business travel remains sharply down, with conferences and conventions still being postponed. It had a disproportionate impact on downtown hotels.

International travel has also not rebounded, with pandemic travel restrictions still in place.

Downtown hoteliers say the condition of the downtown area remains a big concern as well, and they’ve heard from tourists who don’t feel safe walking through downtown Portland.

Last month, an out-of-town guest staying at the Hoxton Hotel in Old Town / Chinatown was stabbed in what police described as an unprovoked stranger attack. The woman was taken to hospital and treated for possible laceration of the liver.

George Schweitzer, general manager of The Benson, said he continued to hear from guests who liked the hotel but were concerned about the surrounding area.

On TripAdvisor, the hotel and attraction reviews site, recent guests have complained about visible homelessness, closed businesses, people with mental health crises and drug or alcohol abuse. “I didn’t feel very safe walking after dinner,” one wrote. “We wondered if we had stumbled upon the set of The Walking Dead,” said another.

“More needs to be done to address the challenges we face,” said Schweitzer. “Our city leaders need to help solve this problem. We need to regain our reputation. I am optimistic, but we can only wait this long.

Some downtown tourist hotspots say they’re seeing an increase in visitors from outside the metro area, but others say business has been slow to pick up.

Bry Hoeg, store manager at Powell’s Books in West Burnside, said the increase in sales this summer appears to be due to an increase in tourists, based on conversations her staff have had with customers.

However, David Beagle, a managing member of the Gray Line of Portland and Pink Trolley Sightseeing bus tour operators, said he was concerned that the negative national media coverage Portland received last year and the lingering problems downtown still weighed heavily on him. on the number of tourists returning to Portland. .

Sales of the company’s Multnomah Falls tour, which departs from Portland, are still down 60% from pre-pandemic levels. Sales from its Portland city tour are down 80%, although the company currently doesn’t offer a hop-on hop-off option that could impact sales.

An October survey of potential tourists by Travel Portland found that more than a third saw the city as an unattractive vacation destination, and nearly 70% had seen Portland negatively mentioned in the media. Portland gained national attention last year as local and federal police clashed with protesters during nightly protests in the downtown area.

Travel Portland spokesperson Marcus Hibdon said the agency believed the pandemic, and not a change in sentiment among tourists, was the single most important factor impacting travel to Portland. That same October poll found that 3 in 4 respondents who had visited Portland before said they were likely to return. And there has been a clear correlation in the easing of restrictions on coronaviruses and a surge in tourism in Portland.

Still, Hibdon said Portland’s tourism industry has a long way to go. Travel Portland predicts that tourism will not fully rebound until 2023, and interest in travel could decline again if COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

“We’re hoping for a solid end to the summer, but we’re not celebrating,” Hibdon said. “We know that other challenges await us. We know there will likely be some slowdowns. We know things can go backwards before we get well.

– Jamie Goldberg; [email protected]; @jamiebgoldberg

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